Challenges To Changing To High-Forage Rations

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Consider these eight hurdles that need jumping before you can successfully feed dairy rations between 60-75% forage to your milking herd. So said Larry Chase, Cornell University animal scientist, at the recent 4-State Dairy Nutrition Conference in Dubuque, IA.

  1. Mindset: "If the dairy producer and consultant do not believe that high-forage rations will work, they won’t work. You have to have people who believe high-forage rations will work or they will fail," he asserted
  2. Consistent-quality forage: "You can't live with wide variations of forage quality daily and week to week if forage is making up 60-70% of the pie instead of 50%. You don't have much room left to buffer variations in quality or dry matter," Chase said.
  3. Inventory: "It may take 15-30% more forage to feed the same number of cows. Can your farm produce 15-30% more forage to feed the same number of cattle? On the same acres? Or are you going to need more money to buy more forage?"
  4. Forage storage and allocation: "Store by quality and then feed them by quality in specific groups. It's always good to have high-quality forage reserved and available for milking cows."
  5. Forage analysis: "This is the biggest piece of your program. You need data to stay consistent or make adjustments and that includes NDF (neutral detergent fiber) digestibility and adjusting for changes in dry matter."
  6. Ration formulation and adjustments: You may have to check rations more frequently to make sure they are on target, to know if moisture, dry matter and digestibility are changing."
  7. Feeding management: "We always insist on fresh, high-quality rations for the cow. We may have to think about how we're doing that – if we need a lot more forage in a high-forage ration in the middle of the summer, does this increase the risk of heating if fed once per day? We may have to feed more often, to keep it cool and fresh. We may have to change the time of day we feed it to maximize heating as the ration sits in the feedbunk."
  8. TMR mixer management: Check to see if your current TMR mixer can handle the ration – it will be bulkier and less dense as more forage is included. You may need to consider buying a larger mixer or making more mixes per day, Chase said.
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